MADRID – The noise picked up and amplified with each second that ticked by, changing timbre and tone while doing so. It began with whistles, desperate and urgent, only to turn into something closer to roaring, formless and elementary, filled with angst and anticipation, as if the sound itself could ward off any more suffering.
By the time the final whistle blew, it was so loud that it seemed to bubble from the ground or look down from the sky. But somehow, that was the preamble: The relief was yet to come, as the players of Real Madrid and Chelsea collapsed on the turf, the winners of the day defeated and the beat triumphant over two stages, and the Bernabeu crack. and shaking.
This is not the first time that the Champions League game has ended this way, of course: the shocking return and the shocking turn are now considered the calling card of this competition, a feature so regular that it wonderful, in a way, every time. it happens that he somehow retains his ability to surprise.
It’s not even like it’s rare here. Real Madrid players scene, spread on the pitch in a state of pure fatigue, happy, after somehow turning defeat into victory – when the dust has settled and information can be processed in a cool and convincing way . – was actually the only logical result that occurs with alarming frequency. It happened only about a month ago, against Paris St.-Germain.
This is exactly what the Champions League does: produce nights where Villarreal, a team that jumps just above the center of the table in Spain, can beat Bayern Munich and still be shaded. That’s exactly what Real Madrid does: flirt with disappointment, toys with disaster, and then flick a switch and emerge victorious.
Even so, even by those standards, Real managed to defeat Chelsea, on the whole (5-4), if not on the night itself (3-2 loss) – to be more tired, agitated and thrilling. than most.
It was not just one return, after all, but two, stitched together in the same marathon game: Chelsea overcoming the two-goal frontman Real Madrid had set up in London last week , seemingly booking his place in the semi-finals in the process, followed by Real Madrid, beaten and beaten, rising from the ashes to grab him away.
He turned everything on one ticket. For 80 minutes, Real’s fans did nothing but suffer. They had arrived at the Bernabeu in a high mood, drifting up the Paseo de la Castellana in complete confidence that Carlo Ancelotti’s team could do the job. It’s Real Madrid in the Champions League, after all. That’s exactly how these things work.
It lasted a whole quarter of an hour, pierced in a flash by Mason Mount’s opening goal. The Bernabeu became unstable, uneasy. Real Madrid seemed to be freezing, as arguably the most experienced, grizzled team in Europe wasn’t quite sure what the protocol was in this situation. Chelsea smelled blood.
Just after half-time, Antonio Rüdiger scored – a simple goal, a header from a corner, as if this was all fairly easy – and the game was level. An oppressive, angry silence came down, the sound of 61,000 people waking up and remembering, oh yes, the Real Madrid team is quite old now, then, and has been through a lot, and needs renovation.
There was a lot of hope when Marcos Alonso’s goal was ruled out for the smallest of handballs, but it was illusory. A few minutes later, Timo Werner skated and skidded around the edge of the box six yards and bundled the ball over the line. The raining jeers were down, therefore, for only a moment. A few people went to the exits. A few people always go to the exits. At this stage, everyone should know better.
That was the tone, then, when Luka Modric got the ball, just within Chelsea’s half, with 10 minutes to play. There was no option before him for the naked and untrained eye; only Rodrygo, the young Brazilian winger, racing away on the other side of the field, duly tracked down by a defender. Modric had no choice but to turn back, to change the angle of attack, to build again.
Or, it turns out, he could sweep a ball with the outside of his right foot just beyond Chelsea’s defense and straight on to Rodrygo’s boot, inside the area, perfectly timed for him to steer shot past Edouard Mendy without breaking a step. The ticket did not exist. Modric found him anyway, and in doing so, Real found his belief.
That goal took the game to extra time, boosting the home team, the forthcoming Spanish champion. Real Madrid doesn’t waste those.
Karim Benzema, his team’s three-goal scorer in the first leg, headed Real ahead with 96 minutes gone. By then, all sense of order had broken, all thinking of planning or reason or strategy thrown into the air.
Chelsea threw all its players forward. Real Madrid substitute left-back Marcelo stopped playing as a forward, for reasons he didn’t even understand. There was a scare: a shot by Jorginho, a headline by Kai Havertz. The whole night, the whole campaign, seemed to be hanging by a thread.
All the while, the noise was increasing, at first aspiring and then impatient and finally justified and onerous. He became a place and a crowd cried out for their misery. No one heard the whistle. No one could hear the whistle.
They knew it was over only when they saw the players on the turf, all the breaths being taken from their bodies, their legs swiveling suddenly, an instant conclusion impossible and inevitable. They should be used to it by now, really. This is how it always ends, in Real Madrid, after all. It doesn’t always end like this.